Here is The Quietus review of “The Stoning” by Angus Batey, which was published on 16 October 2021.
The Stoning, is drier than a Martian canal, hotter than a smelting forge: the investigation into a Biblical execution in a poverty-ravaged outback town finds city-based cop George Manolis battling drunken incompetence, racial hatred, and decades of state-sponsored dysfunction. Papathanasiou writes unsparingly, confidently, and compellingly. His book is desperately bleak but possessed by a savage beauty.
This month, I was absolutely delighted to receive the news that my debut novel “The Stoning” has been nominated for the prestigious UK Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) Daggers in 2022. It’s been nominated in two categories: the Gold Dagger, which is awarded to the best overall crime novel, and the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger, which is awarded to the best debut crime novel.
It’s pretty exciting to see my little book, which I first started writing in 2014, being received so positively, and in such fine company too. I’ve got to give big thanks to my incredible publishers MacLehose Press (UK) and Transit Lounge (Australia) for their fantastic support, and also my hard-working agent, Martin Shaw.
The Stoning Peter Papathanasiou MacLehose Press, €19.85
Peter Papathanasiou was born in northern Greece and adopted as a baby by an Australian family. Although he has written in a variety of forms for many years, The Stoning is his debut novel and, perhaps not surprisingly, his family background has provided a rich seam of material for the work.
Set in the small outback town of Cobb in Australia, the book opens with a local schoolteacher found taped to a tree and stoned to death. Molly Abbott was well liked in the community and no one can understand how – or why – this has happened. With the crime demonstrating all the hallmarks of medieval savagery, suspicion starts falling on the refugees housed at the new immigration detention centre recently built on the outskirts of the town.
Detective Sergeant Georgios ‘George’ Manolis, a Greek-Australian, goes reluctantly to his childhood hometown to investigate the crime, and while he remembers Cobb as a thriving bustling town where his Greek parents ran a successful cafe, he’s surprised to find it’s now a poor and derelict hovel destroyed by alcohol and drugs.
Faced with an antagonistic and uncaring local police chief, George has to carefully negotiate his local colleagues and the simmering anger of the community to try to figure out who killed Molly Abbott and, more importantly, why. Meanwhile, the detective also realises he needs to come to terms with some long-buried secrets from his past that he would prefer to forget.
Papathanasiou has succeeded in delivering a vivid and atmospheric novel that explores a wide range of contemporary themes such as culture, race and migration.
The writing is evocative, the characters are superbly drawn and the clever plot is layered and engaging. The scene setting is also superb, with palpable descriptions of a small, hot outback location that is simply drowning in oppression and unsure how to find its way back.
If you like your crime fiction dark, claustrophobic and thought-provoking with a strong sense of place then this book might be for you.
And, due to the success of this debut, the good news is that an Australian outback noir series featuring Detective Sergeant Manolis is now planned.
The opening scene of this remarkable debut is horrible. A woman is being pushed in a shopping trolley through the dustbowl town of Cobb at night: “A pale-blue mist of eucalyptus obscured the stars above, a new moon cloaking the land in darkness.” She is then gaffer-taped to a tree and stoned to death: “The first stone flew through the air, caved in her forehead and smashed the frontal bone.”
Who would do this to a teacher? The barflies in the pub have no doubt it must be someone from the nearby immigrant detention centre dubbed “the brown house”: “The ’flies laughed, full and hearty, guts quivering, mouths agape, rotten teeth, shrivelled heads.” When Detective Sergeant George Manolis, who is kind to wombats and possums, is sent to help Sergeant Fyfe and his two deputies to find the killer he is welcomed with open hostility: “Well fuck me without a kiss,” Fyfe says. “You must be the city mouse.”
And so it goes, even though it turns out Manolis has a personal connection to the place where the sky is so blue it overloads the brain and the superheated air feels like “dragon’s breath”. Further violence, fuelled by drink and drugs, erupts. As one of the suspects comments: “Isn’t it a sad bloody day when Australians are fighting among Australians to save Australia…?”
It’s hard to believe this is Peter Papathanasiou’s first novel. He makes Chris Hammer and Jane Harper seem like amateurs. Outback noir has a new star.